Shanghai - Sebastian Vettel's comprehensive victory for Ferrari in Formula One's season opener in Australia has put Mercedes on red alert ahead of this Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix but, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff insists Lewis Hamilton has the steel to strike right back after finishing second in Melbourne.
How will things pan out this weekend? These are the main talking points ahead of this week's Grand Prix in Shanghai:
Sebastian Vettel's victory in Australia ensured a stunning start to the season for Ferrari but back-to-back wins have eluded the Italian giant since Fernando Alonso's triumphs in Italy and Singapore in 2010. Vettel had few problems keeping Lewis Hamilton at bay around Melbourne's Albert Park and a second victory at the much quicker Shanghai International Circuit with its long straights would confirm that Ferrari can push Mercedes all the way this season after three years of dominance by the German constructor.
The seething Chinese metropolis of 24 million people is notorious for its heavy traffic but Formula One's drivers should find some room to manoeuvre on the city's grand prix circuit come Sunday. The season-opener in Melbourne typically saw few overtakes, with the aerodynamics of the new, wider F1 cars pumping out more dirty air and making life even tougher than usual for anyone attempting to pass on the tight Albert Park circuit. But at Shanghai, the season's longest straight of 1.17 kilometres should provide a better opportunity for the quickest cars to streak ahead.
Struggling McLaren is expecting to be left exposed on the fast Shanghai layout after rookie Stoffel Vandoorne finished last in Australia. And despite the team being buoyed by Fernando Alonso surprisingly running in the Australian GP points before his late retirement, they are fearing the worst in China. "The characteristics of the Shanghai International Circuit are very different from Melbourne, and its long, fast straights will likely expose the weaknesses in our package more than Albert Park did," warned McLaren racing director Eric Boullier.
Daniel Ricciardo's trademark beaming smile disappeared in Melbourne after a nightmare outing at his home grand prix. The Australian crashed in qualifying, started from the pit lane and lasted only half the race. Team-mate Max Verstappen complained the Red Bulls lacked power and grip as he limped to fifth, almost half a second behind Vettel. It leaves plenty of room for improvement in China and beyond said team principal Christian Horner. "We definitely had the third quickest car," he told Autosport. "It's still early days. I believe there's really good development potential in the concept that we have."
It didn't take long for F1's new owners, Liberty Media, to make their mark after sidelining Bernie Ecclestone, the long-time ringmaster who built the sport and ran it like a personal fiefdom. A new breed of cars and, finally, some competition at the front ensured there was little room for nostalgia as F1 made a fresh start under America's Liberty and its mustachioed CEO, Chase Carey. More changes are guaranteed and, with few dissenting voices around the paddock, so far the new era is off to a smooth start.